Regional Tourism Organizations Moving Ahead

Several months ago, the provincial government released a Request for Expressions of Interest or RFEI for the development of new regional tourism organizations. These new organizations are a product of the recommendations of the Provincial Tourism Competitiveness Study and a funding announcement that was contained in the 2009 provincial budget.

The province announced the creation of 13 tourism regions, with all of northern Ontario being a single tourism region, region 13. Although the region is divided into three parts, regions 13a, 13b, and 13c, it is not clear, at this point, what the sub-region structure will mean in practice. Like all of the other regions, region 13 will be asked to develop a new, industry led and board governed Regional Tourism Organization or RTO.

The proposal for the region 13 RTO was brought forward by a diverse group of tourism organizations in the north, including the NORTAs, many cities, as well as provincial organizations such as NOTO and Direction Ontario. As in several other regions, various interests got together before the RFEI submission and only one proposal was submitted in the region. The Northern Committee of OTMPC has played a key role in supporting this initiative, along with the Algoma Travel Association, whose proposal was the starting point for the region 13 submission. Those of us involved in the submission have met regularly by conference call over the past several months.

In late April, Ministry of Tourism and Culture officials met with many of the groups who participated in the region 13 proposal to provide an update and outline next steps. The ministry will now begin a process of working with the successful proponent in each of the regions to develop an appropriate structure and board so that the organization can move forward. There is also a provision in place to begin funding some activities in the regions, since budgets are now in place.

Of course, the new regions are still something of a work in progress, and there are a number of unanswered questions, including the relationship of the RTOs to existing tourism organizations like the NORTAs, and the role of the sub-regions in region 13. There are also important questions related to businesses located at the boundary of two regions, such as the French River area on the region 12 and 13 borders.

NOTO has indicated a strong commitment to taking an active role in supporting and developing the RTO, and will do our part to make this initiative as effective as possible for our industry. We will continue to provide updates to the industry as this initiative develops, and welcome comments and suggestions from the industry.

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